Sunday, December 11, 2011
Jets master K.C. on near-perfect day
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Saturday night, Rex Ryan stood before his players and issued a challenge. Basically, he told them: Let's skip the fourth-quarter drama for a change, and put our opponent to bed early.
The New York Jets did just that. They scored on their first drive -- yes, again -- and it was Bedtime for the Bozos, meaning the Kansas City Chiefs. With a suddenly hot offense, the Jets cruised to their third straight victory 37-10 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
By the end of the day, a few hours after Mark Sanchez started the touchdown parade with a 1-yard run on a naked bootleg, the Jets assumed control of their playoff fate. They leapfrogged half the AFC, or so it seemed, thanks to losses by three of the four other teams that began the day at 7-5.
After three weeks of chasing, trying to reclaim their season after getting Tebow-ed in Denver, the Jets moved into the second wild-card spot. They're on the inside looking out, a rather remarkable turnaround for a team that appeared to be toast.
"We're making our move at the right time," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "This is when the teams that aren't [13-0] like Green Bay, this is when we make our move."
As the Jets beat up on the Chiefs, jumping to a 28-3 lead with their best first half in three years, the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans lost their respective games. Later, the Oakland Raiders lost, too.
Just like Ryan predicted, right?
Ryan was relatively subdued after the game, probably because safety Jim Leonhard -- one of his favorite players -- appears headed for season-ending knee surgery. If it weren't for Leonhard's injury, it would've been a perfect day for the Jets, who haven't experienced too many of those.
"I feel really good about our team," said Ryan, calling it their "best game" of the season.
The Jets have a chance to do some damage in December, and perhaps beyond, because their offense finally has found a rhythm. They scored a touchdown on four of six possessions in the first half, prompting guard Matt Slauson to say: "That was about the best first half a team can play."
Rex Ryan didn't want any fourth-quarter drama, and he didn't get any against the Chiefs.
You think? They outgained the Chiefs 253-4 in total yards -- rare domination in an NFL game. Then again, the Chiefs didn't look much like an NFL team.
Funny how things change. The Jets' offense, which appeared on the verge of dissension early in the season, has scored 34 and 37 points in back-to-back games. It started last week with a 21-point fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins, and carried into Sunday -- well, for the first half, anyway.
This was the vintage Jets formula, meaning: A lot of Ground & Pound, with some Sanchez in between. Shonn Greene rushed for a season-high 129 yards and a touchdown, looking like the running back they expected him to be. Sanchez completed only 13 passes for 181 yards, but he threw two touchdowns and ran for another two -- the first quarterback in team history to record a double-double.
"We've been playing fast the last few weeks, and that's been the biggest key for us," said Santonio Holmes, who caught one of Sanchez's scoring passes.
Isn't it interesting that the two-game offensive revival coincided with the arrival of Tom Moore as a full-time consultant? Coincidence?
Look, Moore isn't calling plays (sorry, conspiracy theorists), but there's no doubt he has provided a calming influence. For the second straight week, he watched from the coaches' booth, wearing a headset. But this was Brian Schottenheimer's game.
Ryan said Schottenheimer's play calling was "tremendous." Indeed, the Jets hammered the Chiefs with their heavy package, using offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse as an extra blocker for at least 15 plays. They employed two- and three-tight end packages, using the extra blockers to protect Sanchez from the Chiefs' outside rushers, mainly Tamba Hali.
They also slowed the Chiefs' rush by throwing a few screen passes, including one to Greene that went for 36 yards and another to LaDainian Tomlinson that gained 31.
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And they did it against a solid defense. The Chiefs began the week ranked 16th in total defense, hardly shabby.
"It was good to see the things you work on and talk about all year come to fruition -- consistency, long drives, possession and scoring touchdowns," guard Brandon Moore said.
The Jets never will be confused with the Packers, who make everything seem easy, but they've improved in one key area -- the red zone. A year ago, they were among the league's worst. Now they're No. 1. They've scored a touchdown on 11 straight drives inside the 20, including 5-for-5 against the Chiefs.
They don't call it the red zone. The Jets call it the "money zone."
"Ever since we started calling it the 'money zone,' we're No. 1," Ryan said.
In the Saturday-night meeting, Ryan set the tone by challenging the team. According to Brandon Moore, he said, "It doesn't have to be so hard." Basically, it was Ryan's way of saying, "The Chiefs stink, let's crush 'em."
So how did it start? Not well. After winning the coin flip and electing to receive, a rarity for Ryan, the Jets had to burn a timeout before they ran a play because they couldn't get the right personnel package on the field. That's about as embarrassing as it gets.
"That's not going to go on my coaching résumé," Ryan said.
The Jets overcame that hiccup and, for the second straight week, scored a touchdown on their opening drive. Previously, they had done it only once in 11 games.
So began the almost-perfect day. Three weeks removed from the Tebow debacle, the Jets are back, doing their thing -- winning in December and refusing to go away.